Taking public health issues seriously

Andrew Lansley’s decision to give an exclusive joint interview to LGC and sister magazine Health Service Journal emphasises how serious the Tories are about councils and primary care trusts working together on public health issues. But today’s interview with the shadow health secretary also reveals the limits of Conservative thinking on localism.

Last week at a Localis debate about the future of local government regulation, shadow local government secretary Caroline Spelman played down concerns about localism in health leading to postcode lottery accusations, and spoke enthusiastically about councils playing a greater role in public health and about pooled budgets.

Her position was notably different from that of shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Philip Hammond, who in an exclusive interview with LGC voiced concerns about councils taking on more responsibility in areas including health – let alone devolving funding.

Like Ms Spelman, Mr Lansley is less worried about postcode lotteries; like Mr Hammond he does not support giving councils control of public health budgets.

The thing that everyone agrees on is that localism is a good thing. What is less clear is what localism means in practice. This presents an opportunity to shape the agenda but calls for a strong argument from local government.

In austere times, the argument that will win out is a financial one: faced with proof that joint working will ultimately be more efficient, the Treasury may listen.

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